There are few prouder moments for an organization than the launch of a new website design. It can take months or even years to complete the process and comes with a huge sigh of relief once it’s finally live. But before the new site is even indexed in Google, an invisible countdown has already begun–it’s the countdown to the inevitable end of life for that website. “Hang on there, Werner Herzog…our website just launched! Surely we’ll get many years out of this new build?” I can hear you vainly hoping. Unfortunately, the lifecycle of any given site is probably shorter than you think. Orbit Media conducted a study that found the average lifespan of a website is a paltry 2 years and 7 months! You read that correctly. Gone are the days when an organization could gainfully enjoy the better part of a decade from a single web installation. Whether it’s changes within your organization, external market factors, or simply a site that’s being held together by hopes and dreams, a website redesign is in your organization’s future. It’s never too early to ask the question “how often should you redesign your website?” So in this post we’ll offer a few insights about the lifespan of a website, the factors that can prematurely age it, and when you should begin planning your new build.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Change is not only inevitable on the web, it’s constant. Whether it’s shifting development and security standards, growing complexity in the world of consumer technology, or simply the evolution of how users interact, the speed of change in the digital world is blinding. Perhaps this entropy takes the form of a site struggling to stay relevant in search engines or plummeting in its conversion rates. Indeed, there’s a bevy of signals that your site is nearing its end of life and unfortunately, all roads lead to the same place.
We often run into a scenario where the technology at the heart of a site has stopped receiving updates or stopped working entirely. You might compare this to the failure of a vital organ in a human. Sometimes you can fix the failing component. Occasionally you might even be able to transplant a new system in place of the failing technology to avoid total system failure. Just like the human body, every system is unique and we must plan our approach to remedying carefully.
Thankfully, there are plenty of methods to extend the life of a website as we plan ahead for the new build. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these methods seem to borrow their nomenclature from the cosmetic surgery industry. You might start with ‘content injections’ to add more body to your thinning archive, or you might conduct a ‘face lift’ to your homepage. There’s even a technique we refer to as the ‘nip and tuck’ which makes cosmetic changes to the typeface, colors, and imagery without changing any of the substance behind the content. Unfortunately, just like the fate of its biological counterpart, these are all methods of masking the aging process, not reversing it.
A Change is Gonna Come
External forces aren’t the only factors working against the lifespan of your website. Oftentimes the most sweeping changes happen within an industry or organization itself. No company’s message or model stays the same forever and entire industries are changing faster than ever. Think about how quickly the cannabis industry had to invent a unique eCommerce standard or how COVID-19 changed the way we received food during a lockdown, both seemingly overnight. These tectonic shifts within a given industry can wreak havoc on previously sound web development practices and seem to actually erode the performance of an otherwise stable build.
Entropy occurs at the micro level as well. Let’s assume your organization is within a relatively stable industry and is enjoying a longer lifecycle on your website. Sooner or later your team will change, or your messaging will become stale, or a new marketing lead will be appointed. All of a sudden, your once-bulletproof web presence begins to feel flimsy. Your website should reflect the people and missions that make up that organization, and it doesn’t take much for your identity to become out of step with your marketing materials.
Expect the Unexpected
Sometimes a website’s lifespan is defined by circumstantial factors that fall well outside your ability to predict. Is your organization the last in your competitive landscape to relaunch a new site? Perhaps your old marketing agency is holding your website hostage? Maybe you inadvertently granted too many users administrative access and now the backend of your site is starting to look and act like Frankenstein’s monster?
We have seen these as well as dozens of other scenarios through the years. Whether you’re facing changing forces within the marketplace or refreshing your organization’s identity, no website will last forever. Though the answer to the question of “how often should you redesign your website?” is usually “it depends,” our advice is simply to keep your finger on the pulse of your current build. It is always better to plan ahead than be left behind, and when you need an objective, professional opinion, Nuera is only ever a click away.
As our creative director, Grant is responsible not only for the form but also the function of Nuera’s marketing materials and products. He has been a professional designer since 2002 and remains a leading voice in the creative chorus of Northeast Florida.